When Jeff and Lucy Caswell moved from Clintonville to German Village, they planned to continue their life of sustainable living.

While rehabbing their house at 768 Jaeger St., they wanted to add solar panels to help offset energy costs.

There was one problem: There was no solar energy being harnessed in German Village, or any other historic district in Columbus, as far as officials could tell.

Their quest was met with some skepticism by the German Village Commission, the local architectural review board. In effect, the commission was opposed to the panels on the original part of the house, but consented to installation on an addition to the rear.

The six panels are somewhat obscured by the contours of the roof.

"I would have rather had more panels, but I understand we're trying to preserve historic character in the neighborhood," said Mr. Caswell, a retired economist for the Ohio State University College of Public Health.

Keeping green

The green aspects of the house include solar panels, a tankless water heater, a soon-to-be-installed rain garden in front of the house and a rain barrel in the backyard.

"We have a lifelong commitment to be mindful on how we impact the environment," said Mrs. Caswell, the retired curator of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at OSU.

The Caswells paid $12,000 for the panels, which are connected to the electrical system from local supplier American Electric Power.

Michael Smucker, director of growth for Third Sun Solar, said the panels use an inverter to turn direct current produced by the sun array to alternate current to be compatible with the existing energy system in the house.

Let the sunshine in

The Caswells have a net-metered system, meaning it's tied to the grid, so when the system is producing power during peak sunlight hours, that electricity is used inside the house; the energy that is not used goes back into the grid to be used by someone else, with the customer getting credit for providing the electricity, Smucker said

If the load inside is the less than the power needed to run appliances such as the heating system or an air-conditioner, it will use the solar energy first and it will supplement with power from the electric grid for extra needs, he said.

Those credits help offset the cost of energy being used by the public system, he said.

The typical homeowner can get 50 to 90 percent of his or her energy from the solar panels. Because the way the houses in German Village are structured, the Caswells can expect to get 25 to 50 percent of their power from the panels, Smucker said.

He said it's unclear how much the Caswells could save because they have not yet received an electric bill.

"It's not really knowable until after the fact," Smucker said.

With the amount of energy it produces, the system will have completely paid for itself in 8 to 12 years, Smucker said.

Solar city?

Randy Black, head of the Columbus Historic Preservation Office, said he is aware of only one other solar-panel project, which recently was approved for the Bryden Road Historic District.

"It's not something we've done much in Columbus," Black said. "It hasn't come up much. I would expect it to come up more often in the future.

"It's always the same question: how visible is it from primary elevations," he said. "And does it obstruct the view of primary components?"